Saturday, November 22, 2014

By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Day 2

Across the street from our Beaver, Utah motel was one of those super-sized gas station convenience stores that seem to be popping up everywhere these days.  Inside was a combination Mexican fast-food/Cinnabon place.  I do love my Cinnabons.  It's the one thing that makes the Salt Lake airport worthwhile.  But take heed, my friends.  If you're ever in Beaver, Utah, and want a good cinnamon roll, this is not the place to get it.  I ended up throwing half of mine in the trash, and that should tell you a lot, right there.

Just south of Beaver, Utah Highway 20 crosses the mountains to connect up with US Highway 89 some 21 miles east of Interstate 15.  As 89 was the road we would be taking on into Phoenix, we needed to cross over.  The summit on highway 20 is over 7900 feet, and this is considered the preferable route across the mountains.  I love Wikipedia's opening sentence in its description of the highway:  "State Route 20 SR-20 is a state highway in southern Utah, running 20.492 miles (32.979 km) in Iron and Garfield Counties , without directly serving or connecting any cities."  (Emphasis mine)  The highway has some history, and I recommend reading the Wikipedia article about it.  I don't recall anything about our crossing, though, and soon enough we were on US 89 headed south.
Along US 89
Near Panguitch, Utah

The first town you come to on 89 is Panguitch, a town settled by Mormon pioneers in 1864.   Their story is one more tale of desperation and perserverence--the kind of story that helps explain why I admire the Mormon people while being terrified of the Mormon church.  Today, thanks to nearby Bryce Canyon National Park and other recreational venues in the area, Panguitch survives mostly through the tourist trade.

We didn't stop in Panguitch, though, nor did we take the sidetrip to Bryce Canyon.  Instead we continued south toward Kanab, passing a series of billboards advertising a restaurant and its "Ho Made Pies."  Didn't sound very Mormon, but then, neither did the billboards advertising Polygamy Porter that appeared at the time of the Salt Lake Olympics.  We didn't stop for pie, either, so I can't really comment on the quality of the goods made by those poor Hos.

US Highway 89 Southbound
Kane County, Utah

US 89 is a beautiful drive through southern Utah.  It takes off from Interstate 15 near Provo, and parallels the Interstate on the eastern side of the mountains.  South of Panguitch and Utah Highway 12 which leads to Bryce Canyon, the route has been designated The Mount Carmel Scenic Byway.  Heading south, we were descending what's been called The Grand Staircase, a geologic formation that begins with the Grand Canyon and extends northward to Bryce Canyon and beyond.  The "steps" of the staircase include the Chocolate Cliffs, the Vermillion Cliffs, the White Cliffs, the Grey Cliffs, and the Pink Cliffs.  We certainly saw all of those colors in the rocks walls along the highway.  I wish I had known then what I have since found out about the local topography.  I would have insisted on more camera stops, rather than relying on taking pictures through the windows of a moving vehicle.

The Pink Cliffs?
Kane County, Utah

Driving south-bound on 89, you must make a decision at Kanab.  Highway 89 turns due east, and stays north of the Utah/Arizona state line while 89A continues south, crossing the state line then paralleling the north rim of the Grand Canyon, albeit at quite a distance away.  The two eventually reconnect in northern Arizona, but 89 is a faster highway in that it is both wider and has fewer twists and turns than the alternate.  I've now traveled both, and I would be hard put to say which is the more scenic.  It all depends on what you like in scenery.  For this trip, we turned east at Kanab and headed toward the Escalante Canyon and Glen Canyon Dam.

Descending the Grand Staircase
US Highway 89, Kane County Utah

Just north of Glen Canyon Dam, the road turns south again and crosses into Arizona.  I made Kevin stop the truck so I could take a picture of the dam through the safety barrier fence that lines the highway.  The dam is impressive, as I find all such dams impressive, and I never miss the opportunity to photograph these structures. 

Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River
Page, Arizona

We refueled in Page, Arizona, a town built to service Glen Canyon Dam, and couldn't help but notice that watersports were particularly popular in this desert community.  Highway 89 was closed south of Page due to reconstruction necessary after a landslide buckled the pavement back in 2013.  The Arizona Department of Transportation paved Navajo Highway 20 and opened it as US 89 Temporary.  They estimate it will take two years to rebuild the original highway.  If you're interested in such things, KPHO, the CBS affiliate in Phoenix, has a fascinating article on line about the incident.

The drive on into Flagstaff, and ultimately Phoenix, was notable only in that we missed every single opportunity I had planned out to grab a few Arizona geocaches.  I had geocached in 17 states and the Canadian province of British Columbia, but had never scored a find in Arizona.  I was determined that this trip would remedy that situation, but even though I had several caches programmed into my Garmin, we managed to miss every one of them.  Oh well.

We stopped for a late lunch in Flagstaff, and in no time at all we were on Interstate 17 heading south to Phoenix.  Dinner with friend Jeffory at a Chinese restaurant was fun, and after dinner we found wonderful lodgings through the HotelTonight app on my iPhone.  Two days of driving had carried us over 1260 miles and lots of scenic landscapes.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

By The Time I Get to Phoenix, Day 1

Mount Powell at Sunrise
Deer Lodge, Montana

The end of October found Kevin and me making a quick trip to Phoenix, Arizona.  Just a down and back, but an interesting four day drive, none-the-less.  We arose early on Saturday morning, October 25, and were on the road by 6 a.m.  It was still dark and quite foggy here at Wild Horse Plains, Montana, and I guessed we'd be in fog all the way to Butte, some three hours away.  Well, the fog lifted around Drummond, and by the time we passed Deer Lodge, there was color in the sky.  

Turning south on I-15 just west of Butte, I was reminded once again that most of Silver Bow County, like most of Montana, is rural.  Yes, Silver Bow is the smallest county in area in the state, and yes, one hundred years ago, fully one fourth of the people of Montana lived there, but still, once you get outside of Butte and the surrounding communities, there's a lot of open land.  By  the time we crossed into Madison County, the fog was returning, and when we crossed the next line into Beaverhead County, it was back full force.

Beaverhead County Line, I-15 Southbound

We stopped for gas in Dillon, but held off on breakfast till we could get to Dell.  I use any excuse I can to eat at the Dell Calf-A (say it out loud if you don't get the name), and I recommend it to all traveling through southern Beaverhead County.  With our bellies more than full, we returned to I-15 and soon were crossing Monida Pass and heading south into Idaho.  We had heard that Idaho had raised the speed limit to 80 mph, but this was our first chance to experience it.  Clark County, Jefferson County, Bonneville County and Bingham County all flew by, although we did stop for gas near Blackfoot.  No more stops in Idaho, not even at the Near Eastern restaurant I so enjoyed last time I was in Pocatello, and in no time at all we crossed into Utah.

Utah, too, has raised the speed limit to 80 on I-15, and it seems we traversed the northern part of the state rather quickly.  I love photographing public buildings, but as Kevin was in no mood to get off the interstate in Salt Lake City, I had to take this picture of the Utah state capitol through the windshield of a speeding pickup truck.  Sorry 'bout that.

The Utah State Capitol
I-15 Southbound, Salt Lake City, Utah

South of the metropolis, we needed fuel and stopped in Fillmore.  Much to my surprise, I was able to get shots of two government buildings in this seat of Millard County.  As we passed the sign noting that we had entered Millard County, my first thought was of our thirteenth President, and sure enough, both the county and its seat are named for the man who was President when Utah became a territory.  Although it seems to me they got the names backward.  Shouldn't the town be Millard and the county Fillmore?  

Turns out that Brigham Young selected this spot in the Pahvent Valley to serve as the capital of his proposed state.  Originally, the proposed state of Deseret included most of the land the US claimed through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and spread from the Pacific Ocean in southern California to the west slope of the Rockies in Colorado.  When California entered the union in 1850, Utah Territory was created with its boundaries significantly reduced.  It covered only present day Nevada, Utah, and the southwestern corner of Wyoming.  Fillmore was in the geographic center of that area, and Young felt it was the perfect location for his new capital.  Young laid the cornerstone and over a period of two years the first wing of a proposed four-wing building was built.  The Utah Territorial Legislature met there for three terms before the capital was moved back to Salt Lake City.  I also photographed the Millard County Court House which stands on the main street of Fillmore, just in front of the original capitol building.  

The Utah Territorial Capitol
Fillmore, Utah

With the gas tank full and no further photographic side trips envisioned, we got back on I-15 and drove on to Beaver.  Kevin remembered a good Mexican restaurant in Beaver, as well as a decent priced motel.  We didn't try the restaurant, and found that the motel he remembered was now quite expensive.  We found another place to stay and I checked on Yelp for a place to eat.  While not the one that Kevin remembered, we ended up eating (at my insistence) at Maria's Cocina where I had the best restaurant-cooked chile relleno I've ever had.  Their flan, however, left a lot to be desired, in my opinion.  Definitely not worth the extra blood sugar.

After dinner we retired to our motel, and rested happily after a day on the road.  One last note about Beaver, Utah.  Beaver (the city) is the county seat of Beaver County.  The High School is, predictably, Beaver High School, and what do you suppose their mascot is?  You got it, they're the Beaver High School Bandicoots.  Nope, just kidding.  They're the Beaver High School Beavers. Really now, doesn't anyone in the area have any imagination?

Evening skies over Beaver, Utah

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Third Sunday Drive, Day Seven: Grand Teton and Yellowstone

To market, to market to buy a fat hog
Home again, home again jiggity jog!
--Nursery Rhyme

(I bet you thought I wouldn't find a youtube video for this.  You'd be wrong.  There are dozens of youtube videos for this nursery rhyme, but I'm not going to link to any of them.  They're all sickeningly sweet, imho.)

The Cowboy Cafe in Dubois serves a fine breakfast and is very popular.  The popularity may be due to the fact that there are few choices available.  And while it was possible to eat outside at a sidewalk table, we chose a table indoors, one that we shared with other guests.  Then to fill up the Saab's gas tank where we learned that BankofAmerica had finally, one week late, caught on to the fact that my debit card wasn't being used in Plains, Montana, so froze the account.  Really BofA, do I have to tell you every time I leave home?

Pinnacle Buttes (I think) near Brooks Lake, Wyoming

It's 65 miles from Dubois to Colter Bay Village in Grand Teton National Park, and the scenery along US 287 is stunning.  We pulled off a few times to snap some pictures, but just before noon we stopped to buy some supplies in the park.  The visitor center at Colter Bay is quite different from the ones I'm used to seeing in Glacier, Yosemite, or even Yellowstone next door.  There is a sign noting how the design of the building marked a "New Era."

The Jackson Lake Lodge introduced a new standard for national park architecture in the 1950s.  This building marked the transition in national parks from rustic to modern design.  Famed architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood revolutionized park architecture by combining modern materials with rustic accents, such as the wood grain-textured concrete seen on this building.
 Frankly, I prefer the old era, but I have to admit that the windows of the lodge offer quite a view--and since the whole western wall is glass, you get the complete panorama of the Teton Range and Jackson Lake, just outside the building.

 Jackson Lake and the Teton Range
Colter Bay Village, Wyoming

Just north of Grand Teton, the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Parkway crosses into Yellowstone National Park.  In my experience, September is a great time to visit Yellowstone.  The kids are back in school, and you're competing with grandpa and grandma and their Winnebago for space.  This year was not that way.  While we didn't see a lot of kids, there were cars (and people) everywhere.  I don't recall ever seeing so many people at Old Faithful, and the parking lots at the different geyser basins were so full that I didn't bother even trying to get off the highway.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Teton Range through the trees
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

I found it hard to get a clear photo of the Yellowstone National Park sign, so many people were attempting the shot at the same time.  Most of them were in couples, and had to take a shot with one or the other hanging on the sign.   At Lewis Falls, we pulled into the only open space I found and then battled the traffic to get a good shot of the 30' fall on the Lewis River.  At Yellowstone Lake, we drove around the parking lot several times before we found a place to park and have a late lunch.  Old Faithful's parking lot was similarly packed, but we were able to find a spot, park the car, and hike over to the viewing area just in time to catch the performance. 

Obligatory Old Faithful Shot
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Back in the car and headed north, I hated to drive by the Fountain Paint Pots, one of my favorite areas in the park, but the lot was jam-packed and people were parking along the roadway.  At this point, I was in my "Let's just get home" mode, and didn't care to deal with all the tourists.  At Madison Junction we turned west toward West Yellowstone, and about half-way along that road we once again found a spot where the roadside was clogged with parked cars.  Looking out the window, we saw a cow elk across the Madison River, and shortly thereafter found a place to pull the Saab off the road.  Who am I to turn down such a potential shot?  The cow was attractive, but once out of the car I saw that a lot of folk were gathered up ahead on our side of the river.  As I got closer, I saw a bull elk grazing, seemingly oblivious to the folk who were crowding around him.  This seemed like a disaster waiting to happen, and I have better sense than to stick my camera in a bull elk's face, but that's what telephoto lenses are for, right?  John and I climbed back into the car and were able to catch the guy from a safe distance.  Best shot I've ever taken of such a magnificent creature.

Bull Elk on the Madison River
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Before we knew it, we were out of the park, through West Yellowstone, and heading north toward Bozeman.  The elk was the last shot I took that day, and after dinner in Belgrade, we hit I-90 for home.  Alas, the day got to me, and the weather was turning nasty.  Rather than risk driving through the Hellgate Canyon in the dark battling a major storm, we stopped for the night in Deer Lodge.  The next day we continued on to Missoula, then finally to Plains, stopping only to take some shots of graffiti covered boxcars at Clinton.  The art was impressive, but so pornographic that I won't show it here.  Suffice it to say that by 2 p.m. we were home in Plains, having driven a total of 3,659 miles and having taken some 468 photos in ten states.  A very enjoyable Sunday Drive.

Oh, and the nursery rhyme with which I opened this post?  Once home I learned that Kevin had gone to the Sanders County Fair and bought not one but two fat hogs from the 4-H kids--meat that now resides in our freezer.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Third Sunday Drive, Day Six: Rocky Mountain High

Now his life is full of wonder but his heart still knows some fear
Of a simple thing he cannot comprehend
Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more
More people, more scars upon the land
 --John Denver
 To hear John Denver sing Rocky Mountain High, click on the link.  The verse above seems particularly apt given the devastation that the rain and floods caused just five days after we passed through Larimer County.

Also, remember that clicking on photos or links will open a new window.  In the case of my photos, you will be able to see them full screen once you've clicked on the images below.

After checking out of our motel in Limon, we headed across the parking lot for some good, carb rich breakfast food at IHOP.  At 8:45 a.m., we were back on the road heading west on I-70, with the next planned stop somewhere north of Denver where we'd fill the Saab's tank.  Instead, we exited the Interstate at Exit 336, where by (Elbert) County Road 178 we found an abandoned farm.  I believe it's for sale, if anyone wants to take on a project, and what a project it would be. 

Colorado Fixer Upper
Exit 336, I-70

By a quarter after ten, we were on I-25 north of Denver heading toward Cheyenne.  The Saab's tank was full, and I felt we were making good time.  Nancy and Dick (my onboard navigation systems) wanted me to continue north on 25 then west on 80, but I had a different route in mind.  Turning off the Interstate at Fort Collins, we wound our way through the backside of that city following signs to US 287.  287 is a good highway that climbs through the foothills, crossing into Wyoming south of Laramie.  Once out of the metropolitan area, we made two stops, first at Livermore, which seemed to be nothing more than a convenience store/restaurant/bar.  While John used the facilities, I wandered around the parking lot and found that the road taking off behind me was Jackass Road.  (I have a picture of the sign, in case you don't believe me.)  Livermore may not be much to look at, but it does have a Wikipedia entry and a zip code.    A few miles further and we climbed through a cut in the rock which seemed most photogenic.  Hey, I'm driving, I get to say where we stop and shoot, right?  I didn't think much about the sky at the time, but looking at the pictures now, those clouds do seem to be foretelling the torrential rains that devastated this part of Colorado just a few days later.  The picture below was taken on September 4.  The flooding began on the 9th.

Threatening clouds northwest of Fort Collins
Mile 386 on Colorado's US 287

Passing the sign that promised "Forever West," we entered Wyoming with the thought of having lunch in Laramie.  After stopping to add the Albany County Courthouse to my photo albums, we relied on Yelp to find lunch, and that app directed us to a small restaurant facing the railroad tracks in the midst of several second hand stores.  Who know that here in the heart of beef country, we'd find a Vegan restaurant as good as Sweet Melissa's.  The food was inspired and our waiter was cute and very attentive.  Hmm.   By 2 p.m., we were back on the road, this time on I-80, heading west toward Rawlins.

Located almost dead center as you drive across Wyoming east to west, Rawlins is a tidy small city of just under 10,000 residents.  It is the seat of Carbon County, and the home of the original Wyoming State Penitentiary.  Lots of beautiful buildings caught my attention (and my camera's eye) downtown, including St. Joseph's Catholic Church, the Carbon County Courthouse, the Masonic Temple--a lovely sandstone structure, and, of course, the old prison.  I certainly wouldn't mind staying at the Ferris Mansion Bed & Breakfast, either.

The Ferris Mansion Bed & Breakfast
Rawlins, Wyoming

The highway signs leading us out of Rawlins were confusing to say the least, but we soon found ourselves back on US 287 heading toward Lander.  Along the way, we stopped in Jeffrey City, which I remembered from my old days when I was involved in Methodist Church stuff.  Jeffrey City was the southern most parish in the Yellowstone Conference back in the 1970s.  Today, the town is largely a twentieth century ghost town, with several cheaply built apartment buildings waiting to fall down in the wind, and most businesses closed and shuttered.  The town started out in the 1930s as Home on the Range, Wyoming, but was renamed Jeffrey City in 1957 when the Western Nuclear Corporation opened a uranium mine in the area--a venture funded by a Rawlins physician named, what else, Dr. C.W. Jeffrey.  Thousands of people moved to the area, and Western Nuclear built a company town to house them.  The 2010 census counted 58 people still living there, and I looked in vain for a Methodist Church to shoot.  There was a large country church on a hillside just east of town, but when I got there, I found it was Southern Baptist.  One block really caught my eye.  Just a block off the highway, I counted a half-dozen old Mack trucks parked, and one Ford COE (cab over engine) tow truck.  I don't know that it's the tow truck seen in this youtube video, but it could be that truck's brother.

1951 Ford F6 COE Tow Truck
Jeffrey City, Wyoming
Jeffrey City notwithstanding, there's a lot of empty land between Rawlins and Lander, a highway distance of 125 miles.  Beautiful scenery, if you like that sort of thing, but don't count on finding food or gas along the way.  While we arrived in Lander at 6 p.m., it wasn't until 7 that we found ourselves at El Sol de Mexico, again thanks to Yelp.  It wasn't hard getting a table, but once we were seated, I think the wait staff completely forgot we were there.  The restaurant was a popular place, and people just kept on coming, pausing once inside to greet their friends, then on to their tables where, I swear, they were served before the waiter even remembered we were there.  And since I'm bitching about the service, I have to admit that John really enjoyed his dinner.  I found mine mediocre at best.  I guess the reason I'm still so upset about the service is that I trust Yelp.  Nearly every Yelp review of El Sol mentioned the speedy service.  My mileage definitely varied.  While we're still in Lander, I must say that I love the city's website and their slogan "Real. Western. Spirit."  Yep, three words, three periods. 

Central Wyoming Landscape
Along US 287, Fremont County, Wyoming

I didn't want to risk getting to Moran in Grand Teton National Park only to find that our only option for sleeping was going to set us back a couple of hundred bucks, so we stopped at the next best thing, Dubois.  Roughly half way between Lander and the Park, Dubois bills itself as a real western town, or to quote the town's website, "Where real cowboys work and play."  Now that's saying something in a state that calls itself "The Cowboy State."  I guess all the rest of them cowpokes are just amateurs.  The Dubois Super 8 was one of the more expensive Super 8s I've visited, but the beds were comfortable and we were glad to call it a night.

Miles driven:  518 across Colorado and Wyoming.  Photos taken:  57.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Third Sunday Drive, Day Five: Kansas

I am a lineman for the county
And I drive the main road
Searchin' in the sun for another overload
I hear you singin' in the wire
I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line
--Jimmy Web (sung by Glen Campbell)

The Sedgwick County Courthouse
Wichita, Kansas

John had some business to finish before he could leave Wichita, so we spent the morning driving around Kansas' largest city, and the seat of Sedgwick County.  One of his appointments was at a building built on the banks of the Arkansas River, and I spent my waiting time out with my camera, until the angry homeless people in the area drove me back to the safety of my locked car.  I missed getting any river shots, or shots of the eagles flying over the river.  In fact, I missed getting any shots at all in this city of 400,000 people, with the exception of the county court house, seen above.  After lunch at a local burger bar, Spangles, where I had one of the best gyros I've ever had, we headed north out of town on I-135 toward Salina, where we would catch I-70 and drive west into Colorado.  With the exception of the city streets of Wichita, all my Kansas driving would be on interstate highways, a decision I don't regret as frankly, I didn't see all that much of interest in the landscape.

Abandoned farm along I-70 
West of Salina, Kansas
(Note the TV antenna)

We did, however, see many fascinating buildings as we drove along, and I made several stops in towns along the road, even pulling over on the side of I-70 to take some photos of an abandoned farm.  The first town we visited, stretching our legs and snapping photos, was Bunker Hill, a town of less than 100 residents in Russell County.  The town was founded by a group of people from Ohio, and one building I photographed had a large sign which didn't say a word about the building itself, but went on at length about Mother Bickerdyke who was born in 1817 in Knox County, Ohio--the same county where my great-great grandfather lived and was married.  There's a considerable amount of information about this remarkable woman on-line, and you can start by reading what Kansapedia has to say if you click on her name, above.

They don't build 'em like that any more
Bunker Hill, Kansas

Bunker Hill served as the first seat of Russell County, but in the late 1800s, the seat moved to the town of Russell, some seven miles west.  Many townspeople followed the government, and Bunker Hill ceased to grow.  Russell, on the other hand, seemed to be a thriving community.  I swear that while I was photographing the Russell County Court House, Jason Stackhouse got out of the car next to us to enter the building.  Other buildings I photographed while in Russell were Trinity United Methodist Church (regular readers will know how much I love photographing Methodist Churches), and the Fossil Station Museum.  While, apparently, there are fossils to be found in the museum, the name comes from the fact that Russell was originally called Fossil Station, and the museum is more of the small town history and genealogy type than an archeological treasure trove.  One special note is that this town of approximately 4,500 people is the home town of two US Senators, Bob Dole and Arlen Specter. 
Fossil Station Museum
Russell, Kansas

Just west of Russell, across the Ellis County line, we saw a large structure beckoning us to leave the interstate and drive into the town of Victoria.  The town was founded in 1873 by English and Scottish settlers, including George Grant, the man considered responsible for introducing Aberdeen Angus cattle to the U.S.  These early settlers named the town for Queen Victoria, but they didn't stay long in the area.  A group of Volga Germans settled in the area in 1876, bringing their Roman Catholic faith with them.  In time, they built St. Fidelis Church in Victoria.  Built between 1908 and 1911, the church seats 1100 parishioners and was the largest church west of the Mississippi at the time of its dedication.  Although it is not the home to a bishop, and therefore not, techically speaking, a cathedral, William Jennings Bryant called it "The Cathedral of the Plains" when he visited the area in 1912.  With twin towers reaching 141 feet high, the church can easily be seen from miles away on Interstate 70.
St. Fidelis R.C. Church
The Cathedral of the Plains
Victoria, Kansas
On a side note:  The Volga Germans settled in a community they named Herzog in honor of their Volga River hometown.  Herzog, Kansas was located a few miles north of Victoria.  As the English and Scottish residents left the area and the Germans became more numerous, Herzog grew to encompass Victoria.  For some reason, they decided to take the English name and in 1913 Herzog was officially renamed Victoria.

Back on the highway, we bypassed whatever wonders Hays had to offer, and drove on out of Kansas into Colorado.  The last several miles of I-70 in Kansas were a construction zone, so once again I missed photographing any "Welcome to Kansas" sign that might be present.  Kansas now joins Georgia as one of the only two states I've driven through in the last half-dozen years where I've not been able to photograph the entry sign.

We pulled off the road in Burlington, Colorado, the seat of Kit Carson County.  While I tried to photograph the court house, it was getting late enough in the day that the light just didn't allow for a good shot.  Dinner, on the other hand, was wonderful.  Relying once again on Yelp, we stopped at a Thai Restaurant, Chen Vuong Thai,  and ate way too much excellent food.

It was completely dark by the time we approached Limon, Colorado.  To the north we saw row upon row of bright red lights, stretching for miles across the prairie. Now I've been told that Denver International Airport is practically in Nebraska, but really, this seemed a bit far out of town for that.  The clerk at our motel couldn't tell me what we'd seen, but by light of the next morning, it was obviously an enormous wind farm with the towers lit for the safety of any low-flying craft.

All told, we drove a total of  468 miles and took 142 photographs on this day after Labor Day.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Third Sunday Drive, Day Four: Oklahoma

Ooooo-klahoma where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain,
And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet
When the wind comes right behind the rain!
--Rogers and Hammerstein

Click here to hear Hugh Jackman (yes!) and the Royal National sing the title song from Rogers and Hammerstein's epic musical.

Originally I thought of opening this section with George Strait's song Amarillo by Morning, but the lyrics for that song were even less appropriate than the Green Green Grass of Home which I used for Day Two.  I did reach Amarillo before noon, but I started the day in Santa Rosa, New Mexico where I had taken refuge from the storm the night before.  As any of my long-time readers know, one of my favorite subjects for photography is a governmental building.  Santa Rosa is the seat of Guadalupe County, so after a quick breakfast at the motel, I headed out in search of this fine red sandstone structure.    I haven't been posting my courthouses, and as today's drive didn't end up with much in the way of landscape photography, here's the first shot of the day.

The Guadalupe County Courthouse, Santa Rosa, New Mexico

My gas price app suggested that gas would be cheaper in Tucumcari, sixty miles ahead, so I waited to fill up there.  The clouds were still hanging heavy in the sky, but no rain fell as I drove eastward on I-40.  Taking the exit for Tucumcari, I soon found a station where, indeed, the gas was considerably less expensive than in Santa Rosa.

Tucumcari is the seat of Quay County, named for a Senator from Pennsylvania who supported statehood for New Mexico.  It is shaped like a staircase and is unusual among government units in that it borders seven other New Mexico counties and three Texas counties.  Of course I had to photograph the courthouse, a much more modern looking building than the one in Santa Rosa, but still classic in design.  Tucumcari is also proud of its association with historic Route 66, and as I drove through town I saw several beautifully restored cars from the 1950s parked on display in front of many different businesses.

East of town, I saw a collection of older, unrestored cars stored behind a chain-link fence.  Taking the next exit, I doubled back so that I could photograph this Studebaker Graveyard, as I took to calling the place.  I counted at least thirteen Studebakers, most of them Larks, but also a 1930s Ford, a late 30s or early 40s Nash, a Hudson, and several other cars left to rot amidst all the Studebakers.  The cars were guarded though, and not just by the chain link fence.  Two dogs roamed the interior of the yard, and both dogs decided that I just wasn't supposed to get close enough to the fence to shoot through it.  While I clicked away from a safe distance, another dog approached from my side of the fence.  That was when I decided to climb back in the Saab and continue on down the road.  And I love dogs.  What can I say.

The Magnolia Oil Station
Vega, Texas

Crossing into Texas, I wanted to capture the "Welcome to Texas" sign, but was afraid I wouldn't be able to pull off the Interstate.  Instead, I exited the highway with the intention of walking back to get the sign.  Of course, once I had done that, I saw that there was a turnout situated just for people to take pictures of the sign.  Oh well.  As I drove along the on-ramp re-entering the highway, I saw one of those missed opportunities that so often come our way.  I swear there was a highway sign on I-40 that actually read "Don't Mess with Texas."  Short of slamming on my brakes and walking back up the on-ramp, I don't see how I could have photographed that sign.  But I did take it's warning seriously.  This is the state that loves to execute its prisoners, after all.

Vega, Texas is the seat of Oldham County, and once more, I took the break to grab some photos.  Just across the street from the courthouse is a small two-story building that has been turned into a Route 66 museum.  The Magnolia Oil Station was built prior to the commissioning of Route 66, and when "America's Main Street" came through town, it stood ready to serve the public.  Magnolia Petroleum was a Texas based company that was in time purchased by Mobil.

It was getting close to noon as I neared Amarillo, but two more "attractions" caught my eye along the road.  I thought the first was the legendary Cadillac Ranch, so I took the next exit and headed back the frontage road to check it out for myself.  Indeed it was that particular site, but what I didn't know was that Ant Farm's collection of ten vintage Cadillacs has been turned into a graffiti paradise.  Indeed a group of young women were there spraying words on the cars as I watched.

Ant Farm's Cadillac Ranch
Amarillo, Texas

And if Cadillac Ranch weren't enough to remind me that I am in Texas, just a little ways down the road was an RV park with three 1950s Cadillacs in decent shape on display out front.Of course I had to take pictures of them as well.

I considered grabbing the Potter County Courthouse in Amarillo, but the city was too large, and I was too hungry to search it out.  Instead, on my way to a Thai Restaurant I read about using Yelp, I passed Mimi's Restaurant, and pulled into its empty parking lot.  I would guess, given its location, that Mimi's doesn't get a lot of traffic, and indeed I was the only diner there at lunch time, but the food was good, and my server was adorable, and I would guess about 10 years old.

Having satisfied my stomach, I got back on I-40 and continued on across the Texas Panhandle crossing into Oklahoma mid-afternoon.  Understand this.  The whole reason for this roundabout itinerary was so that I could drive across Oklahoma.  Prior to this trip, there were only two states west of the Mississippi I had never visited.  Alaska wasn't quite close enough to Wichita to make it, but Oklahoma City is just over 125 miles south of Wichita, so why not.  And besides, look at what wonders I've already seen on this trip.

I wasn't sure what to expect with Oklahoma.  I was pretty sure that Curly and Laurie, and Ado Annie weren't going to meet me at the border singing and dancing up a storm.  Two of my dear friends are natives of Oklahoma, and while I hadn't asked Roger for his suggestions, I did ask Bear.  Bear's reply was that Oklahoma is such a red state that even the soil is red.  He visits annually, or pretty close to annually, but he claims that his fear factor kicks up several notches as he gets close to the state line.  As it turned out, I have no reason to doubt him, but I can't confirm his fears because I had no personal interactions whatsoever in the state.  I drove straight along I-40 from the Texas line to Oklahoma City, stopped briefly to take some pictures at the State Capitol complex, then got on Interstate 35 and headed north to Wichita.  I took no pictures of the rolling farm land I passed, and yes, the soil was a deep red.  I spoke with no humans.  I made no purchases.  I just drove and shot buildings.  I will note that directly in front of the capitol building is an oil derrick and a couple of tanks owned by Phillips Petroleum.  I will also note that the sidewalk in front of the capitol is inlayed with stars, much like Hollywood Boulevard, except that these stars commemorate various events in the history (and even prehistory) of what is now Oklahoma.  The one star I chose to photograph was the one commemorating the opening of a certain show on Broadway back in 1943:  "The Play Oklahoma Opens on Broadway."

The Oklahoma State Capitol
Note the Phillips 66 derrick and tanks

Once across the Kansas line, I noted signs saying that exit 4 was the last "free exit."  My maps had not warned me that I was headed down a toll road, but I decided to find out just what this was all about.  I had been talking with John off and on all day, and he suggested the best way to get to his apartment once I reached Wichita.  This involved leaving I-35 once I hit Kansas' largest city, and paying a $2.00 toll for the privilege.  I was able to find John's place with no problem, and we set out to find a place that would be open for dinner, not just on a Monday, but on Labor Day.  Eventually we ended up downtown at Wasabi where we both enjoyed fine Japanese cuisine, before calling it a night.

Total Miles Driven:    625 across four states.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Third Sunday Drive, Day Three: Four Corners

Looking down Center Street, Moab Utah

It is September, before a rainfall ...

Soon it's gonna rain, I can feel it,
Soon it's gonna rain, I can tell,
Soon it's gonna rain, what are we gonna do?
-- Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt

Click here to hear the University of Redlands production of this iconic song from my favorite musical, The Fantasticks.

Once I had the car packed, I headed back to downtown Moab to take pictures of the Grand County Courthouse, and anything else I found of interest.  Breakfast took second place, but I found a little coffee shop on a downtown corner and had a mango smoothie, a chocolate hazelnut biscotti, and a hazelnut latte, before hitting the road heading on down US 191 toward Monticello, Utah, where I would turn east crossing into Colorado.

Roughly half way between Moab and Monticello, I passed first the largest piece of advertising I've ever seen, a 5,000 square foot home carved out of the red sandstone and marked by huge letters painted on the side of a cliff, "Hole N" The Rock" with a large arrow pointing down toward the parking lot.  I did stop, long enough to take a couple more pictures, but didn't feel like taking the time (or paying the money) to visit this particular tourist trap.  I have to admit that part of me was astounded, but also repelled, by the large white letters painted on the sandstone.  No missing that "billboard."

Wilson Arch, San Juan County, Utah

Not much further on, I passed Wilson Arch, a sandstone arch much larger than anything I had seen up close in the park.  With a span of 91 feet and a height of 46, Wilson Arch attracts a lot of attention.  Indeed, the parking areas on both sides of US 191 were full, and people were eagerly climbing the rock to get closer to this natural phenomenon.  I stopped long enough to take a picture, then headed on down the road.

Monticello, Utah is the seat of San Juan County, Utah's south-eastern corner.  After stopping long enough to photograph the San Juan County Courthouse and the Monticello Mormon Temple, I turned off US 191 onto US 491, crossing into Colorado and heading for Cortez, the seat of Montezuma County, Colorado's south-western corner.  In Cortez, I allowed Nancy the Nag to misdirect me to the county courthouse, but that let me see a lot more of Cortez than I would have otherwise.  Once I finally found the courthouse, I added its picture to my collection, then leaving the car parked, I headed off to Pippo's Cafe for a lunch omelette with mushrooms, sausage and avocado. 

Cortez sits between Hovenweep National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park.  Both of these areas called out to me, but Albuquerque was calling more loudly, and I drove down US 491 bypassing both of these monuments to human engineering, as opposed to the natural engineering I had seen the day before.  The more I read of the two, the more I know I'll have to return to Cortez and spend time there--probably combining that trip with a longer stay in the Moab area.

Mesa land south of Cortez, Colorado

I've always been a sucker for imaginary lines.  When my Helsinki-based hostess, Eva Pinomaa, asked me why I wanted to visit Rovaniemi, the administrative capital of Finnish Lappland, which sits just below the Arctic Circle, I replied "Our lives are governed by imaginary lines.  This is one I'll probably never be closer to."  Once there, I found that the Finns had turned the Arctic Circle into a tourist trap, complete with reindeer in a pen, a large sleigh full of presents, and Santa Claus village.  There is also a pole with signs reading "Arctic Circle" in several different languages.  On a similar note, there is only one place in the United States where four states come together at a single point.  That would be Four Corners, where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico all meet.  As it happens, Four Corners is on the Navajo Reservation, and just like those sneaky Finns, the Navajo have turned Four Corners into a tourist trap.  The entrance fee is minimal, but it's per person, not per vehicle, and as I had picked up a hitchhiker in Cortez, I paid the fee for both of us to drive across a very rough parking area, wander through the stalls where native people were selling jewelry and other crafts, and get in line to take pictures of each other standing in four states at once.  As all four of these states have a sales tax, and each is different, I'm not sure just how the merchants figure their taxes.

Yours Truly, standing in four distinct states.

My young hitchhiker was headed for the Grand Canyon, and I was headed south and east, so I left him at Teec Nos Pos where I turned east on US 64 toward Shiprock, Farmington, and eventually Albuquerque.  My time in Arizona was short, but it's the spirit that counts, right?  and it allowed me to get this photo of the Navajo Nation's welcome sign.  I have no idea who "RK" might be, but he certainly left his mark on the sign.

Welcome to the Navajo Nation.  Four Corners, Arizona.

From Teec Nos Pos, it's just a hop skip and a long jump into New Mexico.  I had crossed the state on Interstate 40 back in my college days, but I'd never been through the northwestern corner before.  The first major town on US 64 would be Farmington which I knew as the place my best college friends, Jim and Rosanna, would go to visit Rosanna's family.  To get there, I'd have to pass Shiprock, which I assumed was much closer to the geologic formation of the same name.  But no, the rock itself is off in the distance, and I stopped to grab what pictures I could before losing sight of the monolith altogether. 

Shiprock, San Juan County, New Mexico

Just east of Farmington is the town of Bloomfield, and that's where I turned onto US 550 heading for Bernalillo and Interstate 25.   Along the way, I crossed the Continental Divide which was marked by a small sign, nothing like the massive ones we use in Montana.  I also passed through the Jicarilla Apache Indian Reservation, the Jemez Reservation, the Zia Reservation, and the Santa Ana Reservation.  At Bernalillo, I caught I-25 and drove south to Albuquerque, turning west onto Interstate 40 in the heart of New Mexico's largest city.

Yelp helped me decide on a restaurant just off 1-40, and I got to see one shopping center from every conceivable angle as I searched for my dinner among all the major hotel chains.  The restaurant offered New Mexican cuisine, and was quite popular.   In order to be seated immediately, I agreed to sit in the bar.  When my food came, it was plentiful, but nothing like what I was expecting.  Guess I really wanted Old Mexican cuisine.

Back on I-40, I hoped to get as far as Tucumcari, near the Texas state line, but as I headed out of Albuquerque, the rain started to fall.  The further east I traveled, the harder the rain fell.  I saw lightning strikes like I've never seen them before, and the rain was so heavy that even the semis were slowing down.  When I saw the exit for Santa Rosa, I decided to call it a night and get off the Interstate.  After all, by this point I was driving 30 mph and felt that might be too fast.  

Once in my room at 9 p.m., I enjoyed the electricity in the air and the rain as well.  It went on for a full hour at least.  I couldn't say how much longer, because I fell asleep. 

Total mileage for the day:  522   It was a good day, even with the wet ending.